Chapter 19: Frosty Banter
“The media likes to portray me as a senseless killer. I would point out that I am a very sensible killer.”
~ Frank Castle (The Punisher)
All Celeste could register was her pounding head. It beat with her heart, like something foreign was trying to fight its way out of her skull. Pressure was also pressing against her tear ducts, like she had cried the ocean and was drained dry. But Arctic Frost didn’t cry.
As she opened her eyes, everything came rushing back. The harsh light of the room she was in only made her feel more like it had all been a dream. Maybe this was heaven after her arch enemy finally decided to take her out.
(More likely hell)
But, it wasn’t heaven. Unless heaven was full of artificial flickering electric lights and pulsing blue bars. Celeste felt safe to assume that the blue was Merlonium running through the bars. Any closer to them and she would be in even more pain. At least the room was spacious enough for her to have a pain-free, but still powerless zone.
The bed she was sitting on was stiff, unslept in previously. The white walls were stark and clean inside her cell, though Celeste noted scorch marks on other portions of the wall that weren’t enclosed in her prison. The dark monitors on the walls and the blackened training dummies across from her only confirmed the notion that she was being held in Wild Fire’s headquarters. Or, as she should probably call him from now on, Ross Gustin.
There was a girl in silver and black by the monitors, sitting in a twisting chair. She turned at the sound of Celeste’s voice.
“Oh, thank god you’re awake. I didn’t want to be the one to tell poor little Wild Fire that his crush died in her sleep. Even if you are his greatest enemy, he probably still has feelings for you.”
Celeste shook her head, ears stuffed and eyes still a bit blurry. “Wild Fire has feelings for no one.”
Her voice was raw and scratchy. Had she really let so much go last night?
Silver Streak laughed. “Oh, you’re funny. That’s the problem with all those superheroes, they feel way too much. Even Momentum had too much enthusiasm and he’s only just started. Though, frankly, his mom was also just admitted to the hospital, so his attitude might still change.” She took a breath and looked towards Celeste, “Anyways, at least you’re both still alive. If I found out my boyfriend was a super villain, he wouldn’t be my boyfriend for much longer because he’d be six feet under.”
“We weren’t dating,” Celeste argued, putting a hand to her still aching head. “And aren’t you a superhero too?”
“Not really.” The hero shrugged and swiveled in her chair. “I consider myself more of a vigilante, less flamboyant. No multicolored spandex and memorable catchphrases for me.”
“Your hair is silver though.”
“That’s more to hide my real hair style. We girls have it a lot harder when it comes to hiding our identities with our hair, especially the ethnic ones. If I get braids, or extensions, or I straighten it at the same time Silver Streak does, some baddies may start to notice.”
“So, what?” Celeste scoffed. “Silver was just the first wig on the rack you saw?”
This was not how Celeste had imagined her first meeting with Silver Streak to go. At least she wasn’t overly preppy like Sonic of Empire City. She was realistic and straight to the point.
“I always liked to think we were similar, you know?” Celeste offered. “You and me?”
The hero stopped swaying with the chair back and forth at the ponder. “How so?”
Celeste smiled. “We have the same morals, we take down the bad guys, just different ways.”
Silver Streak stayed silent for a moment.
“You’re an Oakland girl, aren’t you? I doubt Kingdom Hills has seen much diversity since Mera moved out. But,” she continued with Celeste’s nod, “though we both come from the same upbringing, we still chose different paths. I’m not the one robbing banks and jewelry stores and destroying priceless artifacts. I know you probably have great reasoning for your ordeals, as all villains do, but I’m the one on the streets taking out the real bad guys.
“Sure, some multibillionaire may steal some money or foreclose apartments from the innocent, but people can always jump back on their feet from something like that. It’s the predators that steal little children and rape defenseless women and men that are the true evils of the world. They’re the ones who don’t get caught because the gangs have paid off the police. They’re the ones who psychologically scar their victims permanently, who make people afraid of the dark in their own home. Who cares about some snazzy villain robbing the First National Bank when two kids just got shot on the side of the road for not paying off their parent’s drug debts? I save people, you don’t. It’s as simple as that.”
Celeste was crushed. She didn’t understand. That was it. Celeste just needed to make Silver Streak understand. She wasn’t the bad guy.
“I just stopped some of the cash flow to the Black Tiger gang a couple of days ago,” the villain argued. “Sure, Mischief stole the loot from me, but the point is that they lost funding for their horrific deeds.”
Silver Streak turned on her, “And did you ever stop to look at the big picture? The Black Tiger gang isn’t going to need that small source of income anymore, not when their boss is free and getting ready to send off a big export of the most addictive drug in the world. You did nothing to the big picture.”
“X escaped Alcatraz?”
“Yeah, I forgot you were passed out for that part of the night.”
Celeste frowned for a moment then continued her earlier argument, “Still, it’s not like I always wanted to be the bad guy. Sometimes fate chooses for you.”
Silver Streak scoffed. “Yeah, sure. You live in a world of superheroes and you believe fate put you in your situation? We live in an impossible world, fate can’t tie you supers down no matter how much it wants to.”
“You don’t understand,” the villain urged, “what was I supposed to do when I discovered my powers? By that time the city already had two fully capable heroes and a rumored vigilante on the streets of my neighborhood. Not to mention one of those fully capable heroes was fire powered. Destiny chose my path for me a long time ago, or I would’ve gotten a power that didn’t directly contradict Wild Fire’s. Imagine me, just another good for nothing hoodlum with no future, trying to be a hero. Everyone already expects me to become nothing more than I already am, so I might as well fill their expectations.”
“Why not defy their expectations?”
She was getting frustrated. Wasn’t it obvious? “What’s the point? What’s the point if you have to go through life continuing to show people that you are more than your DNA? It’s so much easier for those kids born without those bad expectations. I bet no one looks at Ross and immediately thinks he could be some street rat or underprivileged charity case. I was tired of trying to prove to people I was more than just their predispositions of my skin and gender. I’d rather give them exactly what they want than fight every day to prove to some random bimbo that I am worth something more.”
“Then you’re a coward!” the hero yelled out. Celeste was so startled that she didn’t try and argue. “You think I haven’t faced all of the problems you just listed? We grew up in the same neighborhood, almost the same predispositions about our situations. Do you see me accepting what others believe about me? No! I saw the crime on our streets and decided to do something about it. Sure, my ex-girlfriend was already working with the legendary Wild Fire saving the city from themed villains, but I was doing something to help the people in my neighborhood who gave back to me. I rose above everyone’s visions of our dear heroes and became a legend.
“Do those old white guys up in Kingdom Hills look at me like I might try and steal from them when I’m not my alter ego? Yeah, they do. But, do I let that stop me from saving Oakland? No, I don’t. Why should I stop trying to be a hero just because some born and bred racist and misogynist thinks I can’t? If I can change one mind, just one, to think of me as a hero as myself, then my point is proved. If I can convince one little girl living in the roughest neighborhood that they can be better, then I’ve done my job. You? All you’re doing is proving the point of the ones you hate. You want to really make a difference? Fight to prove them wrong. Fighting is what separates the heroes from the villains. I haven’t given up my crusade, not even when boys heckle and cat call me from the streets, because I know something they don’t. I know that I am worth more than they think. Why should the opinions of others stop me from being who I want to be?”
Celeste had no response to the hero.
“You know,” Silver Streak spoke after a while, “I think he still cares for you despite your villainous acts. Sometimes love is strong enough to persevere through anything. I wouldn’t know how that feels.”
“He doesn’t love me anymore, I can assure you.”
Silver Streak narrowed her eyes at Celeste, who was wringing her hands together with a nervous sort of energy. “You sure about that?”
“Yes,” Celeste solidified, “Ross Gustin has no room in his heart for a villain.”
“If it means that much to you don’t be a villain,” Silver Streak argued. “Besides, you didn’t see him when he brought you in. I’ve never seen Mr. All American Superhero so unsteady. You messed him up.”
“He messed me up.”
The vigilante laughed. “This isn’t all about you, sweetheart. Look at the bigger picture again for just one moment. What was your reaction to finding out his identity last night?”
Celeste had to think for a moment. Her memory went blurry when she tried to think back to the happy moments right before the reveal. “I ran. I was going to explode, I could feel the power circling within my chest and I couldn’t take it. I knew I had to get away so I wouldn’t destroy myself in front of him.”
“And how did he react when he found out about you?”
Her breathing was shaky like the aftershock of an earthquake. “He was confused at first, like I was. But . . . but then he told me we could fix it. He wanted to fix everything.” Celeste wasn’t surprised to find cold tears falling from her eyes. “He’s so fucking righteous and good natured.”
Silver Streak got up from her chair and approached the caged animal, not fearing the blue glow of the bars. Of course, she was no super and therefore could come close to Celeste’s area of impact without getting harmed. “He still wants you. I may think he’s conceited and overzealous, but he’s not the kind of guy who would throw you to the dogs, especially now that he knows what kind of person you are. In case you haven’t noticed, he didn’t take you down to the station. We know now you wouldn’t have been able to be put in Alcatraz, but the fact that he didn’t try shows me that he sees the real you. Whatever twisted reasons you have for being bad, you’re also the love of his life. I don’t think he’s going to give up on you that quickly.”
Celeste looked up at her through glassy eyes, “We both also know he’s too good for me.”
Silver Streak shrugged. “Sometimes it works out like that. You just have to hope it’s enough to make you stay. Whether you meant to or not, you both have the heart of your greatest enemy. You guys need to work that out on your own.”
Tears leaked on to the hard ground, staining it dark around Celeste’s feet. She angrily wiped them away because Arctic Frost didn’t cry.
But maybe Arctic Frost could be locked away for a little while. Celeste Moctezuma needed some time without her alter ego shrouding her thoughts in ice.
The hero crossed her arms. “Now, he told me to call when you woke up. You just tell me when you think you’re ready to talk it out with him. In the mean time we can watch some TV. Besides, I think Ross needs some more sleep. He didn’t get the luxury of passing out unconscious to force him to go nighty night.”